Cameron Feller, Cavalier Daily (University of Virginia), April 14, 2009
The 2008-09 Honor Committee released statistics last week about the demographics of cases reviewed during its term. Although the data dealt specifically with cases reported, accused and brought to trial, the information also lends itself to several discussions about some students’ concerns pertaining to the University’s honor system and diversity.
One of the most obvious areas of interest within the statistics were the numbers that dealt specifically with reporting. According to the statistics, a total of 64 cases were brought before the past Committee. Of these cases, 27 reports were brought against white students, 21 against black students, 11 against Asian and/or Asian-American students, four against Latinos and four against students of unknown race.
“When I saw [the statistics], I was a little bit surprised at the disproportionate number of minority students reported compared to [white] students,” said Vice Chair for Investigations Mary Siegel, a third-year College student.
“Looking at these numbers, there are almost as many [black] students reported as [white] students, which is not at all proportional [to the actual number of students enrolled at the University],” Siegel said.
These concerns with respect to reporting extend beyond just Committee members, however.
“In terms of data collection, I can’t help but be startled by the discrepancy,” African-American Affairs Dean Maurice Apprey said.
Some members of the University attribute such statistical discrepancies to spotlighting, which is when certain minorities–such as blacks, athletes and Asians–are reported at a much higher rate than white students for reasons like standing out in the room more, as well as some reporters’ inherent biases.
Siegel said she hopes to help explore the reasons behind allegedly biased reporting by speaking to reporters more frequently than the current system allows.
“I think the first place we have to start is reporters and ask them why they suspected this person of the Committee offense,” Siegel said. “If there seems to be a pattern, then the Committee can try and correct that pattern.”
According to the statistics excluding last weekend’s trials, 35 students were formally accused of committing an honor offense by the I-Panel, 13 of whom were black. Twelve white students were accused and 10 Asian and/or Asian-American students also were brought to trial. A total of 29 trials, including last weekend’s trials, occurred during the past Committee’s term. Of the 11 white students brought to trial, six were found not guilty, whereas 14 of the 19 black students brought to trial were found not guilty. A total of 32 males, meanwhile, were brought to trial, nine of whom were found guilty. Comparatively, four of the 11 female students brought to trial were found guilty.
After looking at the statistics, several Committee members said they believe that any bias present in the beginning of the honor trial process is lost during the process.
“I challenge the notion that students of different color are on par with white students” after trials, Oronce said, noting that though Committee members have told him a “balance” eventually exists, his own data analysis yields different conclusions. He explained that his conclusions are based on a study done six years ago; the Committee has yet to do a similar study since.
“You’ll see that there’s something like a 6 percent difference in guilt rate between [white] students and black students,” Oronce said. “Six percent comes off to me as a huge difference.”
Several members of the University community also have expressed concern about representation within the actual Committee itself in regards to diversity.
“I think if you look at the Committee and support officer pools, they are admittedly not very diverse,” said Committee Chair David Truetzel, a third-year Commerce student. La Alianza Chair Carolina Ferrerosa, a fourth-year College student, agreed, noting that one of her organization’s major concerns is increasing diversity within the Committee.
“We would like to see more of a push” to get more minority representatives on the Committee, and make sure that “the Committee is realistic when it looks in the mirror,” Ferrerosa said.
Members and non-members alike hope that by increasing minority representation within the Committee, other diversity issues can be addressed, like increasing outreach and personal relationships between minority contracted independent organizations and the Committee.
“When you lack diversity . . . you don’t have diversity of thought, diversity of ideas,” Truetzel said.
Boswell [BSA President-elect Boswell] said that first-year students in the black community often are approached by a lot of different programs focused on black students their first semester to create “a sense of family and place here” at the University. It is therefore sometimes difficult, however, to attract first-year students that are minorities within the Committee and other organizations during their first semesters, Boswell said.
Despite these efforts, there are still many things the Committee can do to encourage minorities to participate in the honor system, Boswell said. Even though the Committee attends The Source, the black community’s activities fair, Boswell said she does not know if it is “the most effective way” to help recruitment.